How to Study for the CFRE Exam

Did you read my other post on prepping for your Certified Fundraising Executive certification (CFRE)? If not, check it for tips on how to get your points for the three categories. Once you have those, you can study and register to sit for the CFRE exam. All the information can be found at

To help you get ready for the test, please listen to this quick 5-minute clip summarizing my own experience studying for and taking the CFRE exam. Good luck!


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How to Get Your CFRE

Hi friends! Please enjoy this 3-minute audio post on how to get started on your Certified Fundraising Executive designation, the global credential for the fundraising profession. This post focuses on the 3 categories of points that you need before writing the exam and the basics on how to earn them.

In a future post, I’ll chat a bit about the exam itself. Enjoy!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Give Up On Getting Your Board To Fundraise?!

A 3-minute audio blog on when and why to give up trying to get your board to fundraise, and some better ideas on how to spend your (and their) time.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Tips for Your Transition to the Charitable Sector

Want to jump the fence?

Want to jump the fence?

So you want to jump the fence from corporate refugee to the charitable sector? Read on for an insider’s advice.

Think about your motivation

It takes passion, but don’t stop there. We’re in a competitive sector with high standards that can be very fast-paced. You’ll often be faced with business-like expectations paired with non-profit-level resources. Employers will ask about your passion for their specific cause but will ultimately hire based on the skills you bring. Be ready to talk about both elements as it usually comes up in the first phone screening.

Revise your resume, cover letter & LinkedIn profile

A generic resume won’t cut it. Find the transferable skills and highlight them in charity sector-specific wording. For example, your sales experience could translate into building donor relationships and closing gifts. Your telemarketing experience could be applied to working with a confidential help line.

Above all, spell it out in your cover letter. Don’t let the employer try to guess which skills match the job description.

And a word about LinkedIn – if you don’t have a profile, now’s the time. A lack of professional presence online makes it harder for people to decide whether to short-list you for a position. At worst, it implies that you are not computer literate. Make sure there is a professional looking head shot and title, and that you have recent and relevant positions listed.

Network strategically

Check and local charity associations, like the Association of Fundraising Professionals. There’s no need to pay membership fees yet – just sign up to attend select events and have a business card ready to hand out.

Explore informational interviews too, but be selective. Connect with organizations that you’d actually want to work for, avoid any that are currently hiring, and be respectful of people’s time if you get a meeting (30 minutes is plenty).

Prepare to start at the bottom

 You can move fast in this sector, especially if you have work experience, management skills, etc. But like every sector, employers are typically going to pick the person with direct experience over someone with none. Start your search on sites like or Phil’s Careers for job titles like “administrative assistant” and “coordinator.”

Don’t panic – it’ll take time

If you interview well and have transferable skills to back up your personal passion it can still take six months or more to land an entry-level job in a good market. Be patient, keep networking and good luck!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How to Prep for Your Fundraising Interview

tips-software-383x467You already know the basic preparation for your job interview:  examples of successes, how you handle failure and challenging co-workers, and what to say when they ask you about your weaknesses.

But as a fundraiser there is some specific preparation you should do that will set you apart from other applicants and will allow both parties to understand what you could bring to the role.

Read on for some simple homework and get ready to dazzle them with your analytical and creative smarts.

First, before you even start researching the charity’s work, look up each interviewer on LinkedIn. Do they have a fundraising background? Is it similar or different to yours? This can tell you whether you’re being brought in to maintain a set program or to instigate something new. Do you have any mutual connections? If you find out that a friend or colleague worked at the organization, call them to get insider information on workplace culture, leadership and challenges. In the interview, make sure to only bring up connections that are relevant. Bragging or name-dropping might make them question whether you lack discretion.

Next up, start researching the organization by looking up their last three annual reports online. These next points assume that you’re in an interview with someone from the fundraising team, not just an initial screening with human resources staff.

  1. Before the interview, look at their fundraising totals for the last three years and note whether they have gone up, down or stayed flat. Ask them about the results in a non-judgmental way. Example: “I saw in your annual reports that fundraising revenue has been fairly flat over the last three fiscal years. Has it been easy for your organization to maintain funding in this economy?” This should launch a healthy conversation on plans and goals, or at least provide an opportunity to bond over common challenges in the sector.
  2. Ask them how many donors they have in a given year, and what portion are annual, monthly or major gifts. Find out which donor pool they are most interested in growing or protecting and why. Don’t feel compelled to offer a “fix” every time they mention a problem, but be ready with open-ended questions to get as much information as you can. Example: “So you’re looking to grow your number of monthly donors. What would the best case scenario be over the next two years for that portfolio?”
  3. Ask them about their retention rate. (If it’s below 40%, or if they have no idea, there may be trouble.)  In any case, be ready to discuss how you could help increase their success. Every position on a fundraising team can impact retention and your thoughts here will show them that you understand the importance of this critical issue.
  4. Get them to tell you what kinds of donor stewardship they do. Most charities send regular newsletters and have a thank you and recognition program of some kind. If they ask for your ideas, be ready with examples of stewardship that got positive reactions from donors. Be sensitive to the fact that many charities wish they were doing more inventive stewardship, but can’t always justify the resources it takes. Again, this will work for any kind of fundraising role – stewardship should be owned by the whole team.

As someone who has spent a lot of time interviewing fundraisers, I can safely say that few are doing this kind of work beforehand. Candidates definitely stand out from the competition with this little bit of effort. If you have some other successful interview tips to add, please share your comments here.

This article was first published by the awesome peeps at 


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Why You Should Go To That Fundraising Conference!

Break the bank!

Break the bank!

It’s fall (or whenever) and you’ve got those back-to-school ants in your panties. You hear about a sexy fundraising conference – yay! But then reality sets in when you consider the following.

  • They’re a lot of money! And you’ll probably have to pay for travel too, since it’s unlikely your city has its own development conference.
  • Your boss says disturbing things like: “If I give you the time off, you better come back with useful information to share with the whole team.”
  • Worse, your boss says: “You’ll have to take vacation days if you’re going to miss work.”
  • Even worse, your boss says: “The professional development budget is $47. For the whole department.”

Here’s why you should ignore all that, sell your scooter to a hot Italian neighbour, and pay your own way.

First, you’ll get to know that hot Italian neighbour a lot better – Ciao Francesco!

Second, and Most Importantly, you will get the opportunity to re-charge, re-group and fall in love with your profession all over again.

That’s no small feat as fundraising can really wear you down over time. There’s more than one reason why fundraisers change jobs so often, but a key factor is the core frustration with a job that few people want to do.

We shrug it off most of the time of course (because we do love it), but it is HARD work! I once met a former child soldier who now works in the non-profit sector. He told me the hardest thing for him was – wait for it! – fundraising! Seriously, just you go read that sentence again and let the meaning sink in.

Saving this kind of dough is out of reach for some people, but if you can swing it and send yourself for some professional development, you’ll be able to learn new approaches and information with a group of colleagues who know exactly what you’re going through. I come back from these events floating on moonbeams, re-assured of what it takes to do this job and re-assured that I’m doing it right.

You may even be able to guilt your boss into paying for some of the costs once she hears you’re paying out of pocket. And as for reporting back to the team on what you learned, there’s a blog post for that.

Inspired to shake out the piggy bank? Here are some fantastic conferences in no particular order.

  1. Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Congress in Toronto (November)
  2. AFP International. A moving target, it changes locations among major Canadian and US cities. (spring)
  3. International Fundraising Congress in The Netherlands. A high registration fee, but it has an amazing array of international experts. (fall)
  4. Festival del Fundraising in Northern Italy. Sessions are either in English or translated. (spring) Ciao Francesco!
  5. AFP Vancouver. They’re re-launching a local conference in fall 2015 with a one-day summit.

See you there!

Siobhan : )

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How To Answer Tricky Grant Application Questions

You can make anything sexy!

You can make anything sexy!

I was just having a coffee with a colleague to go over some hard-to-answer grant questions.

Here’s what we came up with!

  1. How do you describe funding needs when all you need are salaries?

Don’t overthink this one! If you have something UNsexy that needs funding, then be sure to focus on the outcome and list the boring specifics later.

Instead of this: We are applying for an assistant veterinarian’s salary to de-worm the guide dogs needed for our youth autism program.

Try this: Children with severe autism will experience increased comfort and safety from the guide dog that you fund. The costs include…all the boring things we don’t need to lead with…

  1. How do you use specific impact examples without ending up with a restricted donation?

Don’t overthink this either! You definitely want to give specific examples of what the requested amount would accomplish – it’s more powerful. But watch your language to keep the funding unrestricted.

Instead of this: $500 would fund 50 meals for homeless people.

Try this: A gift of $500 would help us in so many ways, for example, this amount would feed 50 homeless people.

  1. What do you say when they ask you about other funders?

This is a confusing one. They don’t want to be the only funder in the ring, but we’re often not able to share details of other funders until well after they’re confirmed. And if we had a million other funders for the same project, we wouldn’t be filling out this bloody grant application in the first place, would we??

Try this: Name ongoing funders you already have in place, but not necessarily for the project needing funding. If they need funders related to the project, then list others you have approached and mention that it is confidential information and that they aren’t confirmed yet. You may also want to note that the other funders are waiting to hear on the status of the current application (if that’s the case).

  1. What do you write when they only offer one-time funding and want to know how you will sustain the program afterwards?

Grrr. This is my least-favourite question. In my dream world I’d write this: “If we get one-time funding for this project, then we’ll just start from zero again next year like we have every bloody year since the charity started!”

But don’t say that.

Try this: We have a 10-year history (or whatever) of raising a minimum of $X/year. We will work to increase our other annual giving channels to meet the increased funding needs.

  1. How do you answer the question “If you receive less than you’re asking for, how will you fund the remainder”?

This is very close in content to question 4 and I’ll usually use the same wording, just tweaked a bit. Or I might mention that there are other prospective funders in play who we would ask to step up.

Above all, don’t forget to call or email the funder to discuss your ideas BEFORE applying (unless they specifically say not to). You’ll get a chance to find out exactly what to apply for, what donation range they want, and you’ll be relationship building right from the start.

Need more? Check my previous post “How to Increase Your Odds For a Successful Grant.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Don’t Do Another Special Event! (except this one)


Stay classy fundraisers!

Galas and runs and breakfasts and ice buckets and fashion shows…

I am 47 for Pete’s sake! I’m looking for events that can convert participants into donors instead of just sucking the life out of me and my team.

Events are a great way to raise funds for most charities, but some make the mistake of piling on too many in a given year and stealing staff time from developing major gifts. And if you still don’t believe that major gifts are the Holy Grail, then start following bloggers like Gail Perry (@GailPerrync).

So here’s the exception: A classy cultivation event for your top donors and prospects that takes no time to organize and actually allows you to interact with the donors in a meaningful way. I model mine on the classic cinq a sept – a social gathering between 5pm and 7pm with a glass of wine and non-dinner-ruining snacks.

This is the Quebec version by the way. The original French cinq a sept involves sex with your mistress. And honestly, you can sometimes take “donor-centric” too far.

Organizing it in 4 steps: 

Do this right and you can get away with a 6-week timeline and ZERO dollar budget.

  1. Identify a host with a nice house, preferably a donor or board member. 99% of the time they’ll volunteer to pay for the wine and cheese without being asked. You don’t need much for a two-hour event.
  2. Invite key donors and prospects and the connectors who know them. Aim for 20-50 people and get enough rsvps to cover the 10-15% who will cancel last-minute or no-show. Tell them it’s an awareness event only, with no ask, otherwise they’ll wonder what’s coming.
  3. Have a brief presentation on something super-interesting from one of your frontline staff (20 mins max). Start with a 2-minute intro by a senior staffer and a thank you to the host. No other speeches –  people get tired standing around with their empty wine glass.* Let the guests know you’ll follow up for their feedback over the next week or two.
  4. Post-event: gather notes from staff and connectors on who they talked to and what level of interest the guests showed. Follow up with a call or email to each guest and an appropriate next step.**

Don’t stress out if the first event doesn’t go exactly as desired. Every charity has its own vibe and you might need that first event to see what works best for you. Have fun!


* Here’s your schedule: 5:00-5:40, gather and mingle; 5:40-6-ish, speech; rest of the eve is left for mingling.

** “Next step?” If the guest is super-important, you may already have a cultivation strategy in place with different touch points. For the others, follow up and ask them what they thought and whether they’d like more information. Invite them to meet to get their opinion on other ways to build awareness for your charity (maybe they’ll host the next event). Let them know when you’ll be in touch next.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Great donor stewardship videos – 3 ways

Love your donors

Love your donors

Ooo, this is SO fun and easy! There is NOTHING more important to donor relations than stewardship – the information the donor gets from you after making a gift.



What we want to do in stewarding our donors is to let them know that they made the right decision and that their funding caused the positive impact we told them it would.

We can deliver this kind of information through newsletters, reports or face-to-face meetings. The first two are industry standards, but newsletters are rarely donor-centric and reports are rarely interesting.  In-person meetings would be amazing, but are limited by the amount of time it would take to visit everyone.

So how do you achieve customized, personalized stewardship? Through the miracle of video!

Here are three examples to inspire your team.

  1. Cheap and easy: example 1
  • Find a key spokesperson, ideally a front-line mission worker like the vet at an animal shelter.
  • Craft a short update they can deliver in two minutes.
  • Point your phone at them in a brightly lit area and hit “record.”
  • Upload it and send to your donors.
  1. A bit more sophisticated: example 2 
  • Work with a marketing firm to create a story line.
  • Use a professional video crew to film and edit your video with real lighting and sound.
  • If you don’t have a budget, reach out to communications firms you’ve worked with before and request a pro bono job. Or try advertising for a freebie on social media.
  1. The gold standard: example 3 
  • Break open the piggy bank for original music and high production values.
  • Get a professional production company involved and include starring roles for the donors themselves.
  • Upload to your Youtube page and share on social media…because it’s that good.

Bottom line? Video gives you everything – personal connection, customization, visuals, audio, smell-o-vision… so jump in there!


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

DIY Professional Development for Your Fundraising Team

Get busy!

Get busy!

If your NGO is anything like mine, you either never had much money for professional development, or it dried up during the last economic downturn and never came back. Either way, there’s one sexy solution: Do It Yourself!

Here are four topics that will educate your team and give them a chance to show off share their knowledge with the rest of the group.



  1. Stewardship – my favourite topic! Start by asking your team to send you the most creative stewardship ideas they have ever heard of. Then get the team together, review the stewardship you’re doing, and start a discussion on new things the team could try. Talk about what you do with email, mail, video, on visits and at events. Get the colleagues who submitted samples to describe them to everyone else.

Bonus points: Include communications, marketing and frontline programs staff. They will eat it up AND bring great ideas of their own!

  1. Tricky topics – like ethics or administrative expenses. For ethics, start the same way by gathering sample stories from colleagues, or find some doozies online. Or for the “overhead” discussion, pop some popcorn and watch Dan Pallotta’s TED talk. Discuss!

Bonus points: Just always have food at these things and maybe even find a different space to have the conversation than your usual meeting room. It gets the creative flow flowing.

  1. Donor motivation. That’s right, go for the big topics to get your WHOLE team thinking more broadly about their work than just “I’ve got to update the database with the gala rsvps by Tuesday!” Try watching a video like The Science of Persuasion and have the staff talk about whether you’re using these motivators well and how you could up your game.

Bonus points: Get some key leadership volunteers in for this one – really, any of these could precede an all-staff, management or board meeting.

  1. Share a webinar or conference session. Everyone shares their slide decks these days, so why not grab one from your favourite session at that last fundraising conference and run it for the rest of the team you couldn’t afford to send? Practice a bit first, enlist in-house experts to co-present with you, and look up any missing information so you can put on a smooth show.

Bonus points: When your boss sees you sharing what you learned, it’ll pave the way for more spending on pro-d. Yum.

You’re welcome!

~ Siobhan : )


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment